Those First Impressions: Propaganda – Dr. Mabuse

ZTT | UK | 12" | 1984 | 12 ZTAS 2

ZTT | UK | 12" | 1984 | 12 ZTAS 2

Propaganda: Dr. Mabuse UK 12″ [1984]

  1. Dr. Mabuse [13th Life Mix]
  2. Femme Fatale [The Woman With The Orchid]
  3. [The Ninth Life Of…] Dr. Mabuse

I was late to the game with Propaganda, ironically. I didn’t manage to hear them before a snippet of their video for “Duel” appeared on MTV’s monthly oasis of Brit-centric programming, London Calling, in 1985. I was immediately taken with the sound of that single and bought it as soon as possible. Propaganda had immediately become that bright, shiny thing that occupied my waking thoughts during that period. I was already paying attention to ZTT since the Frankie Goes To Hollywood/Trevor Horn phenomenon hit me, but hard. I should have been all over this single when it was released in 1984; only the second single issued on ZTT. But quite frankly, I don’t remember ever seeing it in the import bins at the time of its release.

I’ll never forget the experience of playing it for the first time when I got it home. It was absolutely the apex of the entire ZTT ethos in one matte black, potent pill. It sounded like Horn and the band spent months making the arrangement so that it was as exquisite as conceivably possible. I had a slight passing familiarity with the series of Fritz Lang silent films featuring the titular evil genius.  The record itself was a stygian maelstrom of sonic malignancy, rendered into a 12″ single! Melodramatic strings sawed away while grinding industrial rhythms and tympani 24 feet tall pounded with sturm und drang until the hyper-cinematic sound seemed to envelope the listener’s entire consciousness. The audience was transported to a decadent world where every dark wish of the unholy criminal genius Mabuse would be made into reality.

It was the sort of record that a percussionist with the Düsseldorf Symphony [Michael Merttens] and a synthesizer player with industrial progenitors Die Krupps [Ralf Dörper] could possibly make when locked in the studio with Trevor Horn [and his Theam] and two intense female vocalists [Suzanne Freytag + Claudia Brücken] …plus a mysterious fifth member of the band for just this single [Andreas Thein]. That it was lost amid the furor surrounding “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood is something of a tragedy, because it is a vastly superior record in every way. It is so much record that the label issued it in two different sleeve designs, as detailed above.

“Dr. Mabuse” stands to my ears as the apex of every style I enjoyed in the Post-Punk era issued right at the only time it could have happened; when synthesizer technology had matured but before everyone were next trying to “rock out” on twangy guitars and “get real” by growing horrifying mullet hairstyles to wear with the techno-psychedelic neon fashion of the stultifying mid-eighties! Has there ever been a more thrilling track than the hellish “Dr. Mabuse?”* Claudia Brücken’s throaty Teutonic croon remains a most deliciously curdled cream. What I wouldn’t give to hear grandiose and ornate music such as this again! It’s the musical equivalent of a mid period Terry Gilliam film! I’d maintain that Trevor Horn never surpassed his production of “Dr. Mabuse.” Point if you will to “Two Tribes,” but even that [admitted] masterpiece stands in the ominous and considerable shadow of this release for these ears.

As devastating as the A-side was, it’s important to remember that there were B-sides on offer here as well. “Femme Fatale” was a magnificent Velvet Underground cover version that was released also on the “ZTT Sampled” LP in addition to variations of this single. The “9th Life” mix was a radical orchestral deconstruction mix with many backward tapes. Both of these tracks are available on the “Outside World” CD that came out… was it already a decade ago? If Propaganda had only issued this single, their exalted place in the Post-Punk Monk pantheon-slash-Record Cell would still be all but assured. That they managed to release three singles an an album in this configuration… and that there was enough money to pay for the production, is something that I’ll always be grateful for! This record heralded the last time that I’d hear work of this caliber again, and for that reason, it attains a bittersweet aura in the realm of my memories.

– 30 –

* “I Travel” by Simple Minds comes to mind as a contender… As does “Some Of Them” by Ultravox.

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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5 Responses to Those First Impressions: Propaganda – Dr. Mabuse

  1. Echorich says:

    Duel is pop perfection. Dr. Mabuse is aural domination! I just listened to Dr. Mabuse followed by Two Tribe – per your inspiration…Frankie goes down in that match up. Dr. Mabuse is brutal, Two Tribes is only angry/petulant by comparison.
    Duel is one of my 20 fave tracks of all time – yes coming up with a solid 20 that doesn’t change is nearly impossible. But what I enjoy about Dr. Mabuse is how fresh if feels when I listen to it. Claudia is amazing at being both plaintive and demanding at the same time.
    You inspired a playlist tonight. I Travel, the Paranoid Fantasy mix of Dr. Mabuse, The Voice from Rage In Eden, 4 Ever 2 Gether by ABC…I’ll get back to you when I’ve finished.


  2. Echorich says:

    Here’s that Playlist:

    Dr Mabuse (A Paranoid Fantasy) 4:21 Propaganda
    I Travel 6:13 Simple Minds
    The Voice 6:02 Ultravox
    4 Ever 2 Gether 5:31 ABC
    Ain’t That Peculiar 4:41 Japan
    Cross The Border 4:26 Icehouse
    Being Boiled 4:22 Human League
    Subculture (John Robie Remix) 7:29 New Order
    Warm Leatherette 3:24 The Normal
    Two Tribes (annihilation) 9:07 Frankie Goes To Hollywood
    Lined Up 3:50 Shriekback
    Mothers Talk 4:59 Tears for Fears
    A Girl Named Property 4:59 The Associates
    A Man Can Get Lost 3:18 Soft Cell
    Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) 5:49 Talking Heads


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – That’s an amazing playlist. I’ve never thought of such a thing, and I’m a little ashamed. Still, I’m going to make suggestions. The 10:15 mix of “Mabuse” is mandatory. I’d swap in the LP mix of “I Travel” [the remix weakens its impact for me]. “The Thin Wall” instead of “The Voice” from RiE. “Cross The Border” is my favorite Icehouse track, but this playlist needs the hardest sounds. Try substituting “Lucky Me” instead! “Lined Up” is a little loose and sinuous. What about “My Spine [Is The Bassline]” instead? It may be cliché, but “Nemesis” has the whipcrack percussion that would be right at home in a mix containing “Mabuse!” My favorite Associates track is also their harshest; “Kitchen Person.” The jammed typewriter rhythms are brutally mechanic in a visceral fashion and Rankine’s guitar sounds like the thrust of a jet engine. And finally, there’s the singular group conspicuous in their absence from this playlist. Where are Cab Volt? I think you need some “Sensoria 12” here, or… if you’re in a dangerous mood – “Crackdown.”


      • Echorich says:

        I did add Sensoria…I considered Kitchen Person, but I like the dual brutality in A Girl…
        Lined Up was also selected on lyrical content considerations. I went back and forth on the LP or remix of I Travel and went for the latter for length…
        There are a lot of choices on Measure for Measure, but Cross the Border is vocally devastating for me. As for Rage In Eden, pretty much the entire album could be mixed into this playlist, but The Voice is my favorited Ure vocal performance.
        I have a couple Clock DVA tracks in mind as well.
        Oh and by the way…your post on intangible music has come to haunt me this week. My WD MyBook is acting up and I am currently attempting to move my entire music libary to a new Seagate drive…not a happy camper here.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – On “Cross The Border” Eno’s backing vocals are superb. Iva must have been in nirvana with Eno contributing to that album. And well he should have! I vacillate on Clock DVA. I have the “Sound Mirror” CD5 and some times I listen to it and think “I need to sell this off.” Other times I’m okay with it.

          Re: WD My Books – These are the brand of backup drives for my work server [gnaws nails]. Right now is not a good time to be buying a hard drive for the next year or so, following the Thailand Hard Drive Massacre® – rated Arrrrgh! Under $200/TB not admitted.


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